Son of a Contino: Pete Contino

The apple never falls far from the tree… or accordion, I guess. While poking around YouTube the other day, I stumbled across a video of the Pete Contino Band. That’s right: Pete is the son of Mr. “Lady of Spain” himself, Dick Contino. Pete toured as a drummer with his father for nearly fifteen years, but now plays accordion with his own band in a style he describes as “acoustic blues with a touch of zydeco.” After putting out his first solo album (Push It) in 2005, Pete has a collaboration with his father coming out later this year. Simply called Contino, the new album features a mix of jazz, blues, rock, latin and more.

Based in Las Vegas, Pete and his band often play at Brendan’s Irish Pub, located at the Orleans Hotel and Casino. Here’s a live clip of the Pete Contino Band doing “Hot Tamale Baby”:

Quick Links: August 29, 2007

This Week in Accordion: Carrefour Mondial de l’Accordeon

What’s on the accordion calendar this week?

  • Carrefour Mondial de l’Accordeon (Thu-Mon in Montmagny, Quebec)
    The town of Montmagny (northeast of Quebec City) welcomes accordionists from around the world for five nights of concerts, dances, and exhibits at the city’s accordion museum.
  • Big Sky Polka Festival (Fri-Sun in Billings, MT)
    Billed as the largest dance festival in the Rocky Mountains, the Big Sky Polka Festival promises three days of nonstop dancing with the John Stehle Band, the Dick Zavodny band and Don and the High Rollers.
  • Tejano Conjunto Festival (Sunday in Sacramento, CA)
    Conjunto festivals aren’t just for Texas anymore. Sacramento’s first Tejano Conjunto Festival includes performances by Flaco Jimenez, Ruben Ramos and the Mexican Revolution, and more.

Do you know about any accordion gatherings in your area? Is there a festival coming up? Is your band going on tour? Let us know and we’ll add your events to our calendar.

Cotati Accordion Festival 2007 Wrapup

Anna at La Plaza Park in CotatiCotati Accordion Festival Photos

Ah… another year, another glorious weekend spent at the Cotati Accordion Festival. We spent nearly ten hours in La Plaza Park today, listening to an incredible collection of accordion-oriented artists. Where else can you hear a klezmer band followed by a yodeling, accordion-playing cowboy? Or see hundreds of white doves released into the sky as a crowd plays “Lady of Spain”? Only in Cotati.

We finally got to see Brave Combo live and they didn’t disappoint; it only took a couple songs before they had most of the crowd in a giant conga line, weaving their way through the park. Culann’s Hounds were a big hit, too; I’m glad that word’s getting around about how good they are. We heard virtuoso accordionists across the generations, from Tony Lovello working the crowd to Alex Meixner alternating between piano and button accordion to young Coupe Mondiale participant Sammy Thomas. We also grabbed a hot-off-the-presses copy of the new Those Darn Accordions album, Squeeze Machine (review coming soon!).

And while Anna didn’t win the raffle this year, we still had a fantastic time. We were completely blown away by the number of people who came up to us and mentioned the site. Thanks for all your support and hopefully we’ll be reporting on Cotati Accordion Festivals for years to come.

Monsters of Accordion Wrapup

Monsters of Accordion togetherMonsters of Accordion photos

It isn’t every day you get to see five of North America’s hottest singer/songwriter/accordionists in one place, but we were lucky enough to do so last night at 12 Galaxies in San Francisco as the Monsters of Accordion tour rolled into town. The crowd was incredible — my amateur guesstimating skills say around 300 people — including a handful of Let’s Polka readers who came up and introduced themselves throughout the night (thanks for coming!).

The show kicked off with Geoff Berner whose “Canadian klezmer drinking songs” had the crowd singing along from the start. In between songs, he told stories of his great-grandfather’s move to Saskatchewan, incompetent French generals of the 1930s, and everything in-between. By contrast, Duckmandu (Aaron Seeman) was all-business, storming through punk covers, country songs, and originals from his new album, Shut the Duck Up and Play Accordion. He closed with his always-popular “flaming hat” rendition of “Highway to Hell.”

As soon as Corn Mo hit the stage, one of my friends turned and asked “Is this guy the love child of Meatloaf and Freddie Mercury?” His show-stopping performance of “We Are the Champions” did little to dispute that hypothesis and Corn Mo had the crowd eating out of his hand for his entire set. (Anna declared him “Best in Show” for the night.) Each show on the Monsters tour has featured a special guest and, after Corn Mo, we were treated to a rare set by the Bay Area’s own Mark Growden. (Mark wins the award for most drool-worthy accordion — what appeared to be a chromatic Bugari.)

Finally, the man who organized it all — Jason Webley — took the stage and whipped the crowd into a frenzy with nonstop sing-a-longs and even a cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” thrown in for good measure. He was floored by the passionate, accordion-loving crowd and remarked that “the tides are changing… in three or four years, people are going to be embarrassed to admit they took guitar lessons as a kid.” The show closed with all five accordionists onstage performing (or just drinking along to) Webley’s “Drinking Song” as the crowd spun in circles and headed out into the cool San Francisco night.

It was a fantastic event and, if you’re in the Bay Area tonight, be sure to catch the last show of the tour over at Smythe’s Accordion Center in Oakland. This is absolutely a can’t-miss, must-see show. Even if you’re up in Cotati today (we’re headed there now), you can still make it down in time for the Monsters show.

For those who couldn’t be there last night, here’s a video I recorded of Corn Mo performing “We Are the Champions”:

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Quick Links: August 23, 2007

Coupe Mondiale 2007 Wrapup

The 60th annual Coupe Mondiale accordion competition, held last week outside Washington, DC, was a huge success. In addition to the competition itself, there were nightly accordion concerts at the Kennedy Center, a one-of-a-kind massed accordion band performance of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” on the steps of the US Capitol (written up in the Washington Post), and countless opportunities for accordion lovers from around the world to hear amazing music and share the squeezebox love.

Here’s a list of this year’s winners by category:

Alexander Sevastian (Canada)
Coupe Mondiale
Ruslan Osipov (Russia)
Junior Coupe Mondiale
Jérémie Buirette (France)
International Competition for Virtuoso Entertainment Music
Eric Allard-Jacquin (France)
Junior International Competition for Virtuoso Entertainment Music
Stanislav Jusufovic (Serbia)
International Competition for Piano Accordion
Art of Accordion Quintet (Germany)
International Competition for Ensemble Music
Betty Jo Simon (Overland Park, Kansas)
Maddalena Belfiore Entertainment Competition for Female Accordionists

You can watch the winners concert online at the Kennedy Center: Millennium Stage website. The performances are (as you might expect) phenomenal.

Thanks to Mara Cherkasky of the Washington Metropolitan Accordion Society for keeping us up to date on all Coupe-related activities last week.

Interview with Jason Webley

Jason WebleyFew performers connect with their audiences as well as Seattle songwriter/accordionist Jason Webley. Known for his gravelly, Tom Waits-ish voice and feverish foot-stomping and bellows-pumping, he’s built a loyal following with theatrical shows that not only invite audience participation, but practically demand it. He also has a thing for tomatoes.

Jason is the brains behind the Monsters of Accordion tour, an all-accordion extravaganza taking place on the West Coast this week. We recently had the chance to talk to Jason briefly about the tour and his work.

If I’ve counted right, I think this is the third or fourth Monsters of Accordion tour. How did it all start? What was the inspiration?

We got the idea for the Monsters tour at an event I was invited to headline at Smythe’s Accordion Center maybe 4 years ago. I had never seen so many other accordion freaks before, and I really fell in love with a couple of them (Daniel Ari and Duckmandu) so we decided to try and do a little accordion only tour. So this is actually year three for “Monsters of Accordion.” The three of us did the west coast together twice, I think. But I was always the main draw on those tours and somewhere I decided that, if I was going to do it again, I wanted to make it bigger than just me. So I invited Corn Mo and Geoff Berner, who both tour all over and have their own followings. And they are amazing. I think it is going to be a great run.

This Week in Accordion: Cotati, Monsters

It’s another big week on the accordion calendar and it includes two events that I’ve had circled for months:

  • Cotati Accordion Festival (Sat-Sun in Cotati, CA)
    Tony Lovello, Brave Combo, and Brian Jack and the Zydeco Gamblers headline the 17th edition of this legendary festival. In addition to two days of nonstop accordion music, there’ll be dance floors, jam tents, and the releasing of the doves while the crowd plays “Lady of Spain.” There’s also a great raffle; last year, Anna won a new Hohner!
  • Monsters of Accordion (Various dates on West Coast)
    An army of accordion troubadors — Jason Webley, Corn Mo, Geoff Berner, and Duckmandu — storm down the West Coast for a series of shows, with special guests in each city.
  • Sturbridge Polka Festival (Fri-Sat in Sturbridge, MA)
    It wouldn’t be a summer weekend without a polka festival. This time, it’s an all-star lineup in Sturbridge that includes Jimmy Sturr, the Eddie Forman Orchestra, and Stas Golonka.

Just like last year, Anna and I will be in Cotati, checking out the bands and handing out Let’s Polka stickers. We’ll also be at the Monsters of Accordion show in San Francisco on Friday night. So if you see us in either place (I’ll be wearing a red Let’s Polka t-shirt), say ‘hi’ and help yourself to some stickers!

And, as usual, if there’s an accordion gathering in your area that isn’t on our calendar, be sure to let us know.

Le Cajun Award Winners Announced

The Cajun Squeezebox Blog has a list of winners from last night’s Le Cajun Awards sponsored by the Cajun French Music Association. The Pine Leaf Boys won Band and Album of the Year, while Jason Frey was named Accordionist of the Year. Bonjour Louisiane host Pete Bergeron and accordionist Kevin Naquin nabbed Song of the Year honors for “Ma Petit Ange (My Little Angel).”

You can catch some of the winners, and plenty of other talented Cajun musicians, at the Le Cajun Music Festival this weekend in Lafayette, LA.

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